On this day 75 years ago, the 1941 horror film The Wolf Man was born. Produced by George Waggner and written by Curt Siodmak, the classic film inspired many modern day myths about werewolves. Did you know writer Curt Siodmak actually invented the myth that werewolves change during a full moon, and that they can be killed with a silver bullet?
Werewolves or lycanthropes are shape-shifting humans whose legend is thought to be one of the oldest told stories of human monsters recorded in history. In the past not only did people wholeheartedly believe such beasts could exist but, much like in the historic Salem Witch Trials, those who were thought to be one were often sentenced to death.
In the 1500s and 1600s, as fears of sorcery and witchcraft ran ramped, people in the Baltic region of Europe began to accuse witches of lycanthropy. Many believed that werewolves were the result of satanic rituals and sorcery, and witches or satan himself were blamed for the beasts coming into existence. As people’s fear of witchcraft grew, so did the perceived threat posed by the monsters. In order to keep themselves and their children safe, the local people of Estonia decided the only thing they could do was hold combined witch and werewolf trials, and sentence the unnatural beings to death.
In 1961 an eighteen-year-old boy named Hans was found guilty of witchcraft. After being caught, the boy claimed he had been a werewolf for two years, and that he had gotten a wolf-like body from a man dressed in black. Hans confirmed that he found teeth marks on his leg, which he believed came from a werewolf bite. Hans was subsequently sentenced to death.
In 1589 a man, or werewolf, by the name of Peter Stumpp was put to death in what was to become one of the most famous werewolf trials in history. The Rhenish farmer was accused of being a cannibal, serial killer, and was known as ‘The Werewolf of Bedburg’. Stumpp told his captives that he had practised in the art of black magic since the age of twelve and that the devil had given him a belt that allowed him to transform into a horrifying wolf. While no such belt was found Stumpp was accused of sucking the blood of goats, lambs, sheep, as well as men, women, and children. He was reported to have devoured his own son’s brains and ate the hearts of fetuses ripped from their mother’s womb.
While it is often believed that those who confessed to being werewolves during the trials, did so under the influence of extreme torture, Stumpp’s detailed description of death and destruction was far too intricate to be a result of torture alone. Some believe that Stumpp could have been suffering from the medical condition called ‘clinical lycanthropy’ which makes a person believe they are an animal.
The human mind has always been intensely fixated on the idea of being able to transform into the body of another. While the true origin of the werewolf isn’t known, the beast has been featured in mythology as far back as 1 A.D. In Ovid, King Lycaon of Arcadia serves human flesh to the god Zeus, and for his crimes is transformed into a wolf. It is through the mythology of Ovid that that term ‘Lycanthrope’ was derived.
In traditional mythology, there are many different accounts of methods used in werewolf transformation. It was believed that a person could become a werewolf by eating the meat of another werewolf, being cursed, being conceived under the moon, being transformed by a witch, eating certain herbs, drinking water that has been touched by a wolf, and of course – possibly the most common – being bitten.
Through modern fiction, the classic werewolf has been almost completely re-invented.
Author J.K. Rowling‘s take on the werewolf dictates that a witch or wizard is likely to survive it’s bite, often becoming a werewolf themselves, however, a bite from the beast can prove fatal to someone without magic running through their veins, also known as a muggle. In Hemlock Grove the werewolf eats its human skin after it has transformed, and in the television show Being Human the werewolves have the ability to see ghosts.
While The Wolfman Man took a lot of its inspiration from traditional mythology, it also created a whole new set of werewolf tropes that had a huge influence on today’s werewolf fiction.
We wish The Wolf Man a very happy 75th anniversary!
If you need a refresher, check out the trailer for The Wolf Man below.
We wish The Wolf Man a very happy 75th anniversary.